Welcome to the new version of CaltechAUTHORS. Login is currently restricted to library staff. If you notice any issues, please email coda@library.caltech.edu
Published January 2014 | metadata_only
Journal Article

Death Valley, Drosophila, and the Devonian Toolkit


Most experiments on the flight behavior of Drosophila melanogaster have been performed within confined laboratory chambers, yet the natural history of these animals involves dispersal that takes place on a much larger spatial scale. Thirty years ago, a group of population geneticists performed a series of mark-and-recapture experiments on Drosophila flies, which demonstrated that even cosmopolitan species are capable of covering 10 km of open desert, probably in just a few hours and without the possibility of feeding along the way. In this review I revisit these fascinating and informative experiments and attempt to explain how—from takeoff to landing—the flies might have made these journeys based on our current knowledge of flight behavior. This exercise provides insight into how animals generate long behavioral sequences using sensory-motor modules that may have an ancient evolutionary origin.

Additional Information

© 2014 Annual Reviews. I wish to thank all the members of my laboratory who provided valuable feedback on this essay. This includes Peter Weir, Eatai Roth, Floris van Breugel, Sweta Agrawal, and Tim Warren. John Tuthill and Gwyneth Card also provided useful advice, as did my wife, Usha Lee McFarling. While working on this manuscript I was supported in part by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The author is not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.

Additional details

August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023